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Please direct all media inquiries to arc@pen.org, +1.646.981.0688

New press releases about artistic freedom

PEN America calls for charges against pro-democracy activist Valsero to be dropped

September 5, 2019  

The arrest, ongoing detention, and charges against Cameroonian rapper Gaston Serval Abe, known as Valsero, are inexcusable violations of freedom artistic expression, PEN America said in a statement today. Arrested earlier this year in the vicinity of a pro-democracy demonstration, Valsero will appear before a military court Friday and could face the death penalty. He’s charged with rebellion against the state, terrorism, insurrection, inciting public disorder, and propagating false information.   

Read PEN America's full statement here.  

PEN America Condemns Brutal Homophobic Attack on Belarusian Filmmaker

August 30, 2019

New York––The recent homophobic attack against a Belarusian filmmaker is a heinous attempt to silence artistic and minority voices, PEN America said in a statement today.

Kolya Kuprich was targeted after he defended several colleagues working on his in-progress documentary, Pussy Boys, about the Minsk’s LGBTQI+ community.

Read PEN America's full statement here.

Burmese Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi Sentenced to One Year Hard Labor for Posts Critical of Military

August 29, 2019

A court in Myanmar today sentenced filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to a year’s hard labor for posts he made on social media that were critical of the military. In a statement, PEN America called the sentence an abhorrent affront to freedom of expression and artistic freedom.  

Ko Ko Gyi was sentenced under section 505(a) of the country’s penal code, which criminalizes making, publishing, or sharing “any statement, rumour or report” that might induce any military service member “to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty.”   

Read PEN America's statement in full here.    

One of the 13 murals that make up “The Life of Washington” at George Washington High School in San Francisco. Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times  

Preserving Controversial San Francisco Murals a Better Solution

August 14, 2019

NEW YORK—A proposed decision by the San Francisco School Board to destroy a series of controversial Depression-era murals at George Washington High School would constitute a serious threat to artistic freedom of expression, but a proposal to cover the murals without destroying them presents a sound alternative, PEN America said in a statement today.

The 1936 Victor Arnautoff murals, entitled “The Life of Washington,” were a project of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. Recently, the murals sparked controversy after several parents at the school said the work was offensive for its depictions of African-American slaves and a dead Native American. In June, the school board unanimously voted to paint over the murals. Since then, however, a large number of organizations have come out in opposition to the murals’ destruction.

Read PEN America's statement in full here.  

Daves Guzha and company arriving at court, July 29, 2019. 

Charges Must Be Dropped Against Two Zimbabwean Filmmakers And Two Others Arrested For Film Screening

July 29, 2019

NEW YORK—The decision to charge two Zimbabwean filmmakers, along with two artists, with unlawfully screening a fictional film, The Lord of Kush, is an “unjust act of intimidation” and threat to artistic freedom, PEN America said in a statement today.

Zimbabwean filmmakers Tendai Maduwa and Kudakwashe Bwititi, and Arterial Network Chairman and President Daves Guzha, and director of the Harare creative space Theater in the Park (TITP) Peter Churu were jailed on Sunday and appeared in court on Monday.

Read PEN America's statement in full here.

Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel at a hotel conference room in Taksim, July 20, 2019.

Prison Sentences Imposed on Turkish Filmmakers Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel for Documentary, Bakur

July 23, 2019

NEW YORK—The prison sentences imposed this month on award-winning Turkish documentary filmmakers Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel represent a “serious blow” to artistic freedom, and one more effort to silence those who fail to promote views held by President Erdoğan, PEN America said in a statement today.

The two were sentenced to four years and six months in prison on July 18 for their documentary Bakur, which follows the lives of PKK guerilla fighters in Kurdistan during the failed 2013-2014 peace talks.

Read PEN America's statement in full here.

Myanmar filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi reports to the Insein township police station in northern Yangon, April 2, 2019. Courtesy of rfa.org

Burmese Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to Face Trial on Charges Stemming from Facebook Posts Critical of the Military

July 23, 2019

NEW YORK—The decision to put Burmese filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi on trial for posts on his personal Facebook account that criticized Myanmar’s military is an unacceptable attack on free expression, PEN America said in a statement today.

“The fact that Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi has been targeted for speaking his mind online demonstrates the Myanmar government’s continued disregard for the right to free expression,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “This arrest is just one piece of a broader, persistent pattern of cracking down on any form of dissent in Myanmar, and it is clearly intended to send a clear message to other artists, journalists, and human rights activists: critique this administration, and especially the military, at your peril. We call for Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for the Myanmar government to cease its unacceptable attacks on free expression.”

Read PEN America's statement in full here.

Deng Chuanbin. Photo: Chinese Human Rights Defenders/Twitter.

Arrest of Chinese Filmmaker Deng Chuanbin Represents the Extreme Lengths of Chinese Authorities to Silence Artistic Voices

May 28, 2019

NEW YORK—The arrest of Chinese filmmaker Deng Chuanbin (also known as Huang Huang) apparently for tweeting a Chinese political meme, represents the extreme steps Chinese authorities will take to silence artistic voices attempting to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Protests, PEN America said today.

Huang, an independent documentary filmmaker living in Sichuan Province, was arrested by Chinese authorities on May 17. That morning, Huang tweeted a Chinese political meme, which referenced the Tiananmen Square protests that took place on June 4, 1989. According to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders and Art Asia Pacific, authorities returned to Huang’s residence and seized several of his belongings after his arrest, including three cell phones, an iPad, laptop, camera, and several memory cards.

Read the full statement by PEN America here.

Cuban artist Yasser Castellanos at the 2018 Biennial.

Independent Artists Under Threat During Havana Biennale

April 16, 2019

NEW YORK—Since the opening of the XIII Havana Biennial on April 12, 2019, several independent Cuban artists have been arrested and have been the targets of constant harassment by the Cuban police. In response to the beginning of the official Biennial and in protest at the Cuban government’s introduction of Decree 349, which formalizes and widens the scope of artistic censorship in Cuba, independent artists have organized alternative cultural events under the title of “Bienal sin 349”. Aware of the potential danger to the artists, ARC, Index on Censorship and PEN International issued a statement in solidarity on Friday, April 12.

On eve of the opening of the Biennial, artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested by Cuban police while performing a piece work involving a footrace with American flags outside his home with two other artists. He was released 72 hours after on Monday, April 15. Artist and activist Amaury Pacheco was arrested and released a few hours later. Pacheco and his wife Iris Ruiz had their house vandalized a few days before. Last week, the artist and writer Coco Fusco was denied entry to Cuba, and poet Katherine Bisquet has stated she and her family have been the targets of increased threats in the past month. All of these artists have been outspoken against Decree 349.

Read more here.


Cuba's Decree 349 Poses Expansive Restrictions on Artistic Freedom, PEN America and Artists at Risk Connection whitepaper warns



March 4th, 2019


NEW YORK—Sounding the alarm on the Cuban government’s grave new policy with potentially catastrophic effects for independent artists, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) issued Art Under Pressure: Decree 349 Restricts Creative Freedom in Cuba today. Released in the wake of Cuba’s February 24 referendum that recognized private property, but enshrined one-party rule, and a month before the Havana Biennial Art Exhibition, Art Under Pressure examines the government’s efforts to institutionalize and expand limits on creative expression by criminalizing unregistered artistic labor, authorizing censorship, and empowering a new class of state inspectors to regulate creative expression.

“While Cuba’s vibrant artistic and cultural scene is known all over the world, so is the country’s reputation for censoring and retribution for artists who dare to challenge government orthodoxy,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection. “The provisions of Decree 349 are not unfamiliar to artists who have been forced to work with the state looming over their shoulders, but this glaring attempt to formalize and tighten decades-old censorship practices forcefully rebuts the notion that Cuba is opening up.

Read the Cuba whitepaper here.

Via Twitter

PEN America Celebrates Release of Turkish Artist, Writer Zehra Doğan

February 25, 2019

NEW YORK— PEN America is celebrating the release of Turkish painter, journalist and feminist activist Zehra Doğan, who was released on February 24 after spending the past 600 days in jail after Turkish courts deemed her journalistic and artistic work to be “terrorist propaganda.”


“We are delighted that Zehra has been released and reunited with family and friends after her unjust imprisonment, which was an appalling affront to free expression,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Art should never be a crime. Doğan is a model of courage for all journalists and artists for standing up against injustice and silence, especially because of her determination to work and create while incarcerated. Many other journalists in Turkey remain behind bars. As we celebrate Zehra’s release, we call for the release of all other Turkish journalists, artists, and activists who are in prison for their journalism or their expression.”

Read more here.

Supporters of Ugandan musician turned politician, Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine chant slogans outside his home after he arrived from the U.S. in Kampala, Uganda September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Francis Mukasa/File Photo  

Ugandan artists should not have to seek government approval to make their art

February 11, 2019

NEW YORK—PEN America, Index on Censorship, more than 100 musicians, writers and artists, and members of the British and Ugandan parliament have signed a petition calling on Uganda to drop plans for regulations that include vetting songs, videos and film scripts prior to their release. Musicians, producers, promoters, filmmakers and all other artists would also have to register with the government and obtain a licence that can be revoked for a range of violations. 

High-profile signatories to the letter include U2’s Bono, and Adam Clayton, author Wole Soyinka, and Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell. Please contact agasparian@pen.org.

Read the entire petition here.

copyright racines 2019

Dissolution of NGO Racines an Unacceptable Violation of Cultural Rights in Morocco

January 22, 2019
NEW YORK—The dissolution of Morocco cultural group Racines by the Ministry of Interior is an unacceptable violation of cultural rights and democratic principles. “Racines’ sudden dissolution is an unwarranted and unjust attack on a vitally important cultural organization,” said Julie Trebault, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) Director. “It is inherent in the work of cultural organizations to facilitate dialogue on issues of importance to society….We call on the Moroccan authorities to permit Racines to continue to operate freely and without constraint.”


Read more here.

Disappearance of Photographer Lu Guang a Troubling Attack on Artistic Freedom in China

December 14, 2018
NEW YORK—The disappearance and reported detention of award-winning Chinese photojournalist Lu Guang is a troubling attack on artistic and journalistic freedom. “Unfortunately, Lu’s case is not unique. The Chinese government has a history of disappearing artists who use their practices as a platform to challenge and critique the regime’s policies”, said Julie Trébault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection.

Read more here.

Arrest of 11 Cuban Artists an Intolerable Affront to Free Expression

December 5, 2018
NEW YORK—The repeated arrest of 11 Cuban artists, all of whom are active members of a campaign against Decree 349, a new law aimed at restricting independent art and culture, is an intolerable affront to free expression. “This repression is not new, but represents a continuation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture’s policy to intimidate and censor critical and independent artistic voices," said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. 


Read more here.

Chinese Authorities Razing Ai Weiwei’s Studio Part of Larger Attack on Artistic Expression

August 7, 2018 
NEW YORK—The unannounced demolition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s studio in Beijing is symptomatic of a larger attack on human rights and artistic expression in China. Ai was not notified about the demolition; several of his works were damaged in the studio’s demolition. “Around the world, artist studios and communes are spaces to be cherished, not discarded”, said Julie Trébault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection. 


Read more here.

The Arrest of Shahidul Alam, Bangladeshi Writer, Photographer, Activist, An Intolerable Affront to Free Expression

August 6, 2018

NEW YORK– The arrest of award-winning Bangladeshi writer, photographer and activist Shahidul Alam for comments regarding recent student protests in the country is an intolerable affront to free expression. “As a photographer, Alam documents the truth so it may be shared with the world; his work and his voice matter now more than ever, and any attempt to punish him for voicing his opinion represents an unacceptable attack on the free speech of a world-renowned artist and activist,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. 


Read more here.

Three-Year Prison Sentence for Poet Galal El-Behairy is Another Blow for Freedom of Expression in Egypt

July 31, 2018
Poet and lyricist Galal El-Behairy was sentenced to 3 years in prison for his lyrics to the song Balaha, released by exiled musician and activist Ramy Essam, and for his latest book of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth. On May 8, 2018, PEN America joined several PEN Centers, the Perpetuum Mobile Artists at Risk program, Safemuse, and Freemuse in signing an open letter demanding that the Egyptian government drop all charges against El-Behairy and protect the right to freedom of expression in Egypt.


Read more here.

Sentencing of Chinese Political Cartoonist Jiang Yefei and Activist Dong Guangping is the Unjust Result of an Unjust Process

July 27, 2018
NEW YORK—The sentencing of Chinese political cartoonist Jiang Yefei to six-and-a-half years in jail under national security charges is the latest and most serious injustice visited against a person targeted for their political and artistic speech. “Jiang should never have been charged with a crime, he should never have been repatriated against his will, he should never have spent a day in custody, and he should never have been convicted. The same goes for activist Dong Guangping, another political dissident who was forced to return to China to stand trial on absurd charges even after being granted refugee status”, said Summer Lopez, PEN America Senior Director for Free Expression Programs. 


Read more here.

Cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé Freed from Prison in Equatorial Guinea

March 7, 2018

NAIROBI/ NEW YORK—An Equatorial Guinean court on March 7, 2018, released an artist imprisoned on dubious charges for nearly six months, 18 human rights groups including PEN America said today. The prosecution dropped all charges against Ramón Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist whose work is often critical of the government, at his February 27 trial after the police officer who had accused him of counterfeiting $1,800 of local currency admitted making the accusation based on orders from his superiors.

Read more here.

Threat of Prison Sentence for Two Turkish Filmmakers Marks Another Blow to Free Expression in Turkey

February 8, 2018
NEW YORK — The arrest and trial of filmmakers Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, accused of producing propaganda, is a violation of their free expression and artistic rights and yet another example of the Turkish government’s desire to subvert the judicial process, PEN America said in a statement.

Read more here.

Fordham University Welcomes Writer at Risk in Residence Kanchana Ugbabe with PEN America and Artists at Risk Connection

November 21, 2017
NEW YORK—The Fordham Department of English has welcomed a new colleague, Kanchana Ugbabe of Nigeria, to serve in the newly created position of Writer at Risk in Residence for one year beginning this fall. The pilot position was made possible through the efforts of the Creative Writing program in partnership with Westbeth Artists Housing, ArtistSafety.net, Residency Unlimited, PEN America, and ARC. The residency is the second effort of the New York City Safe Haven Prototype, a multi-organizational artist residency program designed to house, integrate, and nurture artists at risk.

Read more here.

More than 1,000 Attacks on Artists Worldwide in 2016 Highlight Growing Need for Resources and Support

October 10, 2017
NEW YORK—PEN America announced today the launch of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), an online collaboration of more than 500 global organizations that provide life-saving resources to artists worldwide who face oppression, persecution, arrest, and violence for their creative work. 

Read the full press release



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